Review: Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens Star in Cloying, Two-Dimensional Quebecois Rom-Com French Girl

I guess this first-time feature from actors-turned-directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, French Girl, qualifies as a romantic comedy—except for the fact that there’s nothing particularly romantic or funny about any of it. Zach Braff plays high school English teacher Gordon Kinski, who has somehow been successful in getting into a relationship with up-and-coming chef Sophie Tremblay (Evelyne Brochu), a native of Quebec City. The two live in Brooklyn, and Gordon is preparing to finally pop the question, even going so far as to retrieve a family heirloom ring from his father (William Fichtner) to give to Sophie on their upcoming romantic getaway. But their plans get sidelined when Sophie gets an opportunity to interview for world-famous, Michelin-starred, celebrity chef Ruby Collins (Vanessa Hudgens), who is staffing up her new crown-jewel restaurant in Quebec.

The couple change their plans and head to Quebec, where Gordon finally gets to meet the entirety of Sophie’s difficult-to-please, French-speaking family (Gordon can speak it after years of dating Sophie, but not fluently). He also meets the super-chef herself, Ruby, who it turns out used to date Sophie years earlier, a fact that she kept from Gordon because he has a tendency to overreact and get paranoid at the slightest provocation (just the guy you want proposing to you, oui?). The family runs one of the biggest lamb farms in the region, but patriarch Alphonse (Luc Picard) confesses to Sophie that he is in danger of losing the farm. And most of the family thinks Gordon is a wimp, especially when they find out he wears tights to teach Shakespeare to his students. He attempts to ingratiate himself into the Tremblay family, but the efforts often backfire and further embarrass him.

French Girl might have been a salvageable work were it not for Hudgens' ridiculous portrayal of Ruby, who hosts a reality show, clips of which we see throughout the film and all of which were clearly made by someone who has never seen a chef-centric reality show in their lives. It’s also wildly clear that she has her sights set on winning Sophie back. She does everything in her power to make the family remember what a great couple they were, while also humiliating Gordon by pushing his jealousy buttons, quite successfully. Ruby is an awful, two-dimensional character, and Hudgens makes no effort to breathe any kind of humanity into her.

But the real failure here is Braff, who is simply flailing with his attempts at humor. He must know the movie isn’t funny, so he’s turned his performance up to 11, and you can’t help but want to slap him repeatedly. There are bits in which the family grandmother (whose dementia is a constant source of “humor”) wanders into Gordon and Sophie's bedroom and swipes the engagement ring, which Gordon secretly attempts to swipe back from her when no one is looking, including one time after she’s died. My stomach still hurts from laughing so hard…or maybe I was retching. Braff is bad, but in his defense, he’s got a garbage screenplay to work with. Other than some tasty-looking French dishes, there’s almost nothing to recommend about French Girl.

The film is now playing in theaters and will be available digitally on March 19.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.